Ground Meat to the Rescue!

By Sandy Hu
The latest from Inside Special Fork

What would we do without ground meat? It’s the hands-down, most versatile choice for that last-minute, what-to-cook dilemma. Whether you use ground beef, pork, chicken or turkey, there are infinite ways to turn this dinnertime staple into quick, delicious meals.

Here are some ground beef safe storage and handling tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

  • When purchasing ground beef, it’s best to bring along a cooler with ice to keep it cold.
  • Plan to return from the store immediately after purchase and refrigerate ground beef as soon as you arrive home.
  • Use refrigerated ground beef within 1 or 2 days of purchase.
  • To freeze for a month or so, freeze in the original package. To freeze for longer, overwrap in heavy-duty plastic wrap, aluminum foil or freezer paper. Date packages. Frozen ground beef is best used within 4 months for optimum quality.
  • Thaw ground beef in the refrigerator to prevent the growth of bacteria. For quicker thawing, put package in a watertight plastic bag and submerge in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Cook immediately; do not refreeze.

Our favorite way is to cook ground meat is with canned tomatoes. Combine with pasta, top with cheese and bake. It hardly needs a recipe, but if you would like one, here’s our family’s version.

Pasta Bake
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound ground beef, pork, turkey or chicken
½ cup chopped onion
1 can (28 ounces) peeled tomatoes, preferably Italian San Marzano variety
Kosher salt
1 package (1 pound) rigatoni or ziti
1 package (8 ounces) mozzarella cheese, sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or parsley, optional

Heat oven to 375⁰F.

Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil.

While the water is heating, make the sauce: In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat; add ground meat and brown, breaking up the meat to form small crumbles. Remove meat from skillet with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add onion to the skillet and sauté until onion is soft. Return ground meat to the skillet and add tomatoes including the juices. Using a spoon, break up tomatoes into bite-size pieces. Bring mixture to a simmer and simmer 5 minutes, until heated through. Taste sauce and season with salt, if needed.

Meanwhile cook pasta following package directions; drain.

Add sauce and drained pasta back to the pasta pot and stir to combine thoroughly.

Transfer pasta mixture into an 8 ½-inch X 11-inch baking dish, smoothing top. Scatter mozzarella slices over pasta and bake for about 40 minutes or until pasta is heated through and cheese has melted. If you like, broil the top to get a crusty finish; watch carefully to prevent burning. Sprinkle with herbs, if using.

Makes 6 servings.


  • Instead of mozzarella, top with shredded Cheddar, Monterey Jack or any other kind of cheese you have on hand.
  • Sprinkle shredded Parmesan cheese over the cheese slices for additional flavor before baking.
  • For a bit more crunch, sprinkle top with a little dry bread crumbs before baking.
  • For a change of flavor, add minced garlic to the onions while sautéing and add dried oregano or dried basil to the sauce while simmering.

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Posted: Oct 1st by Sandy_Hu